January 26 – Democracy is not just about protecting a citizen’s right to protest against the government, but also about promoting the spirit of dissent within a political party itself, since state assemblymen and Members of Parliament are meant to represent the people.
If a party prevents its assemblymen and MPs from voting against its Bills -- which can happen because representatives want to defend the interests of their constituents, if only to avoid losing their seat in the next election – then there is no real democracy.
The Penang state government under the DAP recently barred Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu, who once voted in favour of a Barisan Nasional (BN) motion to halt new land reclamation projects pending environmental studies and open hearings, from administering RM200,000 of state funds for his constituency. Under the state government’s instructions, Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari would take over the administration of the Tanjung Bungah constituency instead, signing off on fund applications, and also open up a new service centre “recognised by the state”.
Zairil was quoted saying: “If one of your people said he would leave and become a rival, there’s no way any organisation in this world will entrust you with the responsibility anymore”.
Teh had said he would quit the DAP after his term ends and he may contest in the 14th general elections. The assemblyman’s decision to leave the party came after a landslide in his constituency last October that killed 11 people. Teh was known for championing environmental issues and opposing harmful development projects, occasionally clashing with the state administration.
The Penang government’s removal of state allocations from an elected representative is despicable.
A government is not a corporation, where a CEO can be sacked if she isn’t performing or if she violates company policy. While elected representatives are responsible to their party to some extent, they are accountable to their constituents first and foremost.
State funds do not belong to DAP; they are monies from taxpayers merely entrusted onto the government as caretaker.
The people had elected Teh to represent them. How dare the Penang government violate the will of the people by appointing someone else to run Teh’s office?
In this regard, Pakatan Harapan (PH) has shown itself to be no different from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). In 2002, when Penang was then governed by BN, MCA suspended indefinitely two Penang state assemblymen – Tan Cheng Liang (Jawi) and Lim Boo Chang (Datuk Keramat) – for abstaining from voting against a DAP motion to delay the Penang Outer Ring Road project.
In 2005, Datuk S. Sothinathan was suspended for three months as Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister after he criticised the BN federal government in Parliament over the de-recognition of Crimea State Medical University’s medical degree.
Surely not all debates in the House are three-line whips, which should only be reserved for key issues like budget Bills. State assemblymen and MPs should otherwise be generally free to speak their mind in the House and to vote based on their conscience.
Federal and state governments should be forced to seek votes from across the aisle, rather than to automatically expect support from all representatives from their party.
One of the reasons cited by PH supporters to vote for the coalition, despite its decision to make autocrat Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad its prime minister candidate, is that PKR and DAP leaders have a mind of their own and will not be “yes men” subservient to the 92-year-old.
However, the way DAP has run Penang for the past two terms shows otherwise.
DAP, like Umno, brooks no dissent and expects its elected representatives to prioritise the party above the people.
Why should PH behave differently if they control Putrajaya?